Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

All who opposed Iraq War must oppose Syria strike

By Van Jones
September 9, 2013 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Van Jones: Yes, we want peace in Syria and an end to chemical attacks
  • But he says supporting a military strike on Syria would be to repeat mistakes from Iraq War
  • Jones: Bush took his case to the U.N.; Obama has not presented evidence there
  • He says Bush had broader coalition, no plan to win peace; Obama has no plan for war

Editor's note: Van Jones is a co-host of CNN's new "Crossfire," which makes its debut at 6:30 p.m. ET Monday. He is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68.

(CNN) -- The situation in Syria would break the heart of anyone who has one. That is why progressives desperately want peace in Syria, an end to the chemical weapons attacks and aid for the millions of refugees. Additionally, most of us support President Barack Obama and want him to have a successful presidency.

But we must be consistent. We have a worldview that requires the right thing to be done -- in the right way. That is why those of us who opposed President George W. Bush's war in Iraq have no choice but to oppose Obama's proposed attack on the Syrian regime.

There are three reasons, at least.

Van Jones
Van Jones

1. In 2003, we condemned Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell for relying on dodgy evidence of weapons of mass destruction while making the case for war before the United Nations. But at least Bush took his case to the United Nations. Obama has not formally presented any evidence to the United Nations -- at all.

2. We attacked Bush for conjuring up his own, personal "coalition of the willing" to launch a war. Bush's alliance was cobbled together largely out of a bunch of countries that many people in the United States had never heard of -- some of which were sending only a handful of troops. And yet Obama has virtually no coalition at all. Even the United Kingdom won't strike with us on this one. So Obama would be attacking with a smaller coalition than Bush had.

3. We condemned Bush's team because, even though our forces won the war, Bush had no plan to win the peace. Unfortunately, Obama seems to have no plan to win the war -- or the peace. He is just proposing "limited, proportional strikes" -- without explaining what happens next after Syria inevitably strikes back somehow. It is hard to get into a "limited, proportional" fistfight.

There is no way to keep this war limited. The region is a powder keg with Lebanon's Hezbollah and Iran poised to retaliate for any strike against their ally Bashar al-Assad. Assad could drag Israel into the conflict if he struck that nation.

Furthermore, the Assad regime has had weeks to fortify or hide prime targets, including his chemical weapons from attack by air. All of these may well mean, that despite Secretary of State John Kerry's protestations, we may have to engage in a land war and put "boots on the grounds" to achieve our military objectives. Mission creep and chaos are normal parts of war.

'Crossfire' hosts on action in Syria
Van Jones on watching 'Crossfire' with dad

Instead of jumping feet first into a war, we need to get creative. Two options short of war leap to mind.

1. Disrupt and deter without violence. Cyberwarfare has proven extremely effective containing Iran and disrupting its nuclear program through the Stuxnet virus U.S. intelligence agencies developed. A similar cyber campaign aimed at disabling the communications and weapons delivery systems of the Assad regime could "degrade" al-Assad's ability to attack innocent civilians just the same.

2. Give peace a chance. Obama has slowly built up a coalition of the reluctant. From Jordan to Germany, our allies are strongly opposed to al-Assad's acts but hesitate to endorse, let alone join, a U.S. military coalition to hit the Syrian leader. We all want an end to the civil war. Let's engage Russia, Iran and the Arab League and renew efforts for a conference to end the conflict. If the backers of the rebels and al-Assad's regime are shamed into a summit, the civil war may find a peaceful resolution. It may not work, but it's worth a try.

The ongoing situation in Syria is a tragedy. The suspected use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians by the Assad regime is despicable and deserves our condemnation. But military strikes by the United States under these conditions won't make the situation better -- and could potentially make it much worse.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Van Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 23, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2231 GMT (0631 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT